Most people today who are visiting a local church come with a consumer mindset or orientation. They make decisions about where to worship based on the amenities and the services offered. Is the nursery well staffed and clean? Check. Do they have a good youth group? Check. How’s the worship team? Check. Is the preacher a good speaker? Check. Do I like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary? Check, check, check.
Years ago a former pastor decided to assume a new identity. He became a “mystery worshipper.” You’ve heard of stores having mystery shoppers or restaurants that have undercover diners? This former pastor, Thomas Harrison, decided to make himself available to do the same thing for churches.
Mr. Harrison poses as a first-time churchgoer and covertly evaluates everything from the cleanliness of the bathrooms to the strength of the sermon. For example, he scoured a megachurch in Cedar Hill, Texas, and jotted down a laundry list of imperfections: a water stain on the ceiling, a "stuffy odor" in the children's area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink and a sullen greeter who failed to say good morning before the worship service. "I am a stickler for light bulbs and bathrooms," he says.
Mr. Harrison grades churches on a wide range of categories, using a colored-light system: green is good, yellow means caution, and red signals trouble.
In the 67-page report he generated for the Cedar Hill church, he gave green lights for the preaching and the tidy tissue boxes that were placed at the end of each row. He gave them yellow lighst for the sidewalks (COMMENT: "The brick-paved island in front of Arena needs attention. Some weeds are growing through the cracks.") and for the parking lot greeters (COMMENT: "From the parking lot into the church, I was not greeted by anyone. Upon leaving church and returning to my car, I was greeted by very friendly man who wished me 'a good day.'"). And the church got a red light for, among other things, the greeters in the sanctuary (COMMENT: “I was not greeted upon entering the seating area in either service. In the second service, I even moved to a second area of the auditorium about 10 minutes into the service -- but still no greeting.")
Thomas Harrison’s report card for churches is not totally without merit, in the same way that the quality of the paint job on your new car isn’t unimportant. But tidy tissue boxes and friendly parking lot greeters are clearly not the most important elements of a local church.
The Bible offers a different checklist.
In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus gives His report card to seven different churches in Asia Minor. Here are some of the things on His list for His church, then and now.
1. Passion and Zeal for the gospel. At least three of the seven churches Jesus rebukes are demonstrating a lack of fervor for their faith. The Ephesian church had lost its first love.” The church in Sardis was rebuked for being weak, sleepy and dead. And the Laodiceans were sadly “lukewarm.” Jesus wants His followers to be full of life, full of passion, full of zeal for the gospel.
2. A commitment to truth. Jesus affirms the Ephesian church for exposing false teachers. And He rebukes the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira for doctrinal compromise. Truth and sound doctrine matter to Him.
In our day, a commitment to sound doctrine can be seen as divisive and narrow. Meanwhile, a lack of biblical discernment on the part of God’s people has opened the door to a misunderstood gospel and a variety of false teaching.
AW Tozer was right when he called for the church to embrace what he called “a gentle dogmatism.” “Moral power,” he said, “has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need right now a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever.”
3 Holiness. In Revelation 2, Jesus commends the Ephesian believers for not bearing with those who are evil. He uses a metaphor – unsoiled, white robes – to describe the purity of life that He expects from His followers.
He’s not suggesting that these churches, or any church, should be hostile toward sinful men and women. Remember, He ate with tax gatherers and sinners. But just as Jesus called those tax gatherers and sinners to repent and follow Him, so He wants us to turn from our sin and to pursue righteousness and godliness.
There is one final theme I’ll highlight from Jesus’ report card for the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
4. Faithfulness and Endurance. In these two chapters, we see Jesus affirming churches for remaining steadfast in their faith in the face of tremendous hardship and persecution. He promises rewards for everyone who “overcomes” or “conquers.”
What kind of “overcoming” does Jesus have in mind here? What kind of “conquering?”
RC Sproul says it’s a call to overcome the onslaught of attacks we face everyday, from the world, the flesh and the devil. “We are called in our generation to be faithful to the gospel,” he says, because “the honor of God is at stake. And when the honor of God is at stake, so is the honor of every human being, for it is God who grants dignity to men and women. Our high calling is to remain faithful to the Lord in this struggle, to fight for the truth of God’s Word and not to compromise. If we remain faithful, we are promised a sure and great reward: ‘The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death’” (Revelation 2:11).
As we are entering a new season and a new era for our ministry in Little Rock with the building of a permanent church home, my ongoing prayer is that we will be a church that focuses on being people who live lives full of truth and grace, who have a zeal and passion for Jesus and the gospel, a commitment to personal holiness and who faithfully endure and who “overcome.”
So you know we’ve rescheduled our all church picnic for this Sunday, right?
And you know there have been flash flood warnings in Little Rock today, right?
We’ll see what happens with the weather the rest of this week, and let you know again this weekend whether the picnic is on or off for Sunday. Look for the email update in a couple of days.
Meanwhile, Kids Small Group is on for tomorrow night at church. Plan to drop off the kids, ages 0-12, at 5:45 and pick them up before 8:15. If you have any questions, contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mordecai is in mourning. Esther is oblivious to what’s going on. But together, they come up with a plan to attempt to reverse the edict of King Xerxes that calls for the extermination of every Jew in the ancient world.
We’re in Esther 4 this Sunday. Get ready.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!